Getting Lean – the benefits of automation in the microbiology lab

Published: 2-Apr-2015

At the PDA Berlin Event in February, Kevin Walsh, Technical Services Manager at Rapid Micro Biosystems, presented a poster entitled, 'Getting Lean: Benefits of Automation in the Microbiology Lab'

At the PDA Berlin Event in February, Kevin Walsh, Technical Services Manager at Rapid Micro Biosystems, presented a poster entitled, 'Getting Lean: Benefits of Automation in the Microbiology Lab'. The poster discussed the principles of lean and how they relate to the microbiology lab. He went on to explain the processes in the microbiology lab that generate waste from a lean perspective, and how they can be addressed through process improvements. Finally, the poster highlighted the additional benefits that automated technologies can bring to a lean programme.

Lean principles

As the poster outlined, no matter the industry or area of the business, there are a few key components of any lean project:

  • Identifying value: define the most valuable aspects of the product or process
  • Mapping the value stream: studying the information, activities and materials involved in the process, as well as the workers' movements in their physical workspace
  • Creating flow: focus on and optimise the most valuable steps in the process
  • Establishing the pull: define the demand for the product or process and enable sufficient supply or response
  • Striving for perfection: continually improve key processes

Forms of waste

Creating a leaner process requires the identification and elimination of waste wherever possible. The poster noted the seven most common forms of waste are:

  • Transportation: moving a product across a facility costs time and money and involves risk of damage and destruction
  • Motion: the movement of equipment and personnel
  • Inventory: raw materials, work in progress, finished products and the storage space they require
  • Over-production: Excess production can lead to higher costs
  • Waiting: processes put on hold for in-process results, line changes, final approvals and other tasks
  • Over-processing: using more resources than necessary to produce a desired product or result
  • Defects and errors: failure to meet a specification—in the QC lab, errors include colony miscounts, mistimed incubation transfers and inaccurate data reporting

The process benefits of automated enumeration

Manual microbial testing is resource-intensive and time-consuming. Samples must be collected and labeled, and taken back to the lab for incubation, enumeration and reporting of counts. This process involves multiple steps, and a lean initiative can uncover wastes and improve process efficiency.

With automation, however, the benefits of lean can be improved. By eliminating manual steps, automated RMM can also limit the occurrence of human error that can lead to unnecessary investigations, which can potentially cost a company tens of thousands of dollars. Because automated RMM can provide rapid results with fewer resources and less potential for human error, the following benefits can be realised:

  • Removing incubation errors
  • Removing enumeration errors
  • Automating data transfer to LIMS
  • Reducing time to results
  • Moving sampling closer to the production area
  • Minimising sample transport
  • Minimising out-of-specification investigations

Get lean!

Many quality control labs are implementing lean initiatives. It is important for the labs to find the right balance between all variables: speed, automation, workforce effectiveness. Adding automated technology to the initiative can help streamline processes and improve efficiency, taking the lean to the next level.

Download the poster.

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